Just Keep Walking (Film Review: “The Way Back”)


A sweeping, fact-based story about a disparate group of prisoners from a Siberian gulag who walked 4,000 miles to India seeking freedom, with the Russian tundra, the Himalayas and the Gobi Desert to cross in the process.

SnapShot Plot

If at times a bit meandering and slightly sentimental, The Way Back is nothing if not an epic story of survival and solidarity, massive both in geographical setting and its depiction of sheer human endurance. It takes place during World War II when a young Polish prisoner named Janusz, played by Jim Sturgess (Across the Universe; The Other Boleyn Girl) convinces a rag-tag group of fellow prisoners to escape their Siberian labor camp in the midst of a blizzard with basically nothing but the clothes on their backs. The film co-stars Ed Harris, Colin Farrell, Mark Strong and Saoirse Ronan, who plays a young woman on the run herself who they meet in the forest. From the outset, tensions run deep as cultural and personal enmities flare between the men, but the addition of Ronan’s character combined with the harsh realities of survival begin to form a cohesive group from the suspicious inmates who began the treacherous journey. As the days turn into weeks and months, the small group must depend on each other to face the most hostile terrains imaginable – not to mention the constant threat of capture – thus forging a bond of human interdependence that would have been unimaginable before their odyssey to freedom.




Parting Shot

Legendary director and multiple Academy Award nominee, Peter Weir (Master and Commander; The Far Side of the World; Dead Poets Society; Witness) was inspired to make this picture by the 1956 memoir, The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom by Slawomire Rawicz (the Sturgess character in the film) who recounted his arduous 4,000 mile walk to freedom in 1941. The book was supplemented by other research material in the form of first-person accounts and interviews conducted by Weir and executive producer, Keith Clarke. The movie was shot in Bulgaria, Morocco and India, and owes its stunning visual palette to Academy Award winning Director of Photography, Russell Boyd (Master and Commander, The Year of Living Dangerously, Gallipoli).

Whether every word in the book is true or if Rawicz may have exaggerated his experiences to some degree seem to be a point of debate. But isn’t human memory like that? The selective, even revisionistic impulse to create a more compelling narrative out of one’s own past, in order to make sense of it both to yourself and to others? It’s a conceit that strikes at the heart of all great storytellers – in books and in film – and Peter Weir is among the greatest epic filmmakers working today. In The Way Back, he has made an emotionally rich adventure story whose themes are larger than life: Endurance, Fraternity, Liberty and Survival. And given its basis in history, it serves as testimony to the belief that when we work together toward a common goal, no matter how insurmountable, the glue that holds us together through the darkest of times is our collective humanity in the face of despair.

The Way Back is presently streaming on Netflix.

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YouTube trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=87kezJTpyMI

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